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The Bootleggers of Funk — Cadillac Jackson

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Cadillac Jackson 2By Taylor Westwood

It’s nearly 1:30 a.m. on Saturday morning when a two-car caravan pulls into the back parking lot of Mid-Town Billiards in downtown Little Rock.

Six road-weary passengers stumble out of the loaded-down vehicles and frantically begin to shuffle in their gear. With the sweat from the last set still fresh on their clothes, the guys pour through the back door, arms full of amps, merchandise and drum-kit remnants as they prepare for their second lengthy performance of the evening…here we go again.

The patrons entering the front of the establishment begin to stir amongst themselves and raise the typical questions: Where are these guys from? What kind of music do they play? Who the hell is Cadillac Jackson?

When the music keys up the questions begin to, despite head scratches, quickly turn into heads nodding to the sounds of a band that might be the best kept secret in Arkansas.

Unless you have been to a Cadillac Jackson show, you probably have never heard of the 6-piece Fayetteville based group. Though a young band (all under the age of 28) Cadillac Jackson is not cut from the same cloth as most bands from its generation.

They do not have a twitter account nor do they have any YouTube videos featuring full-length songs, and they have rarely been afforded the opportunity to play the biggest venues of their home city. Truly unique in sound and back-ground, Cadillac Jackson has found success on the regional circuit by-way-of good ole fashion hustle.

“We typically play every weekend, but we rarely play the same city twice in a month which has its advantages and its disadvantages,” explained guitarist Jared Souza. “Our focus over the last year or so has been to expand our reach to the entire region. I think we might even be better known outside of Fayetteville than in it, which is fine by us. In the last six months we have been able to finally get into the studio to put together an album we are hoping will take us to the next level.”

The band includes brothers Jared (Guitar/vocals), Jake (keys/vocals) and Josh Souza (bass), Stephen Tucker (M/C), Justin Danner (drums) and Logan Cruce (guitar). Established in late 2010, the group started by toiling around the Ft. Smith and Fayetteville bar scene, honing a sound they refer to as “Jam/Hop”: an eclectic mix of funk, hip-hop and jam band music.

Cadillac Jackson took a serious status jump in 2012 when they won the Wakarusa Winter Classic and the Dawg Daze Battle of the Bands in consecutive weeks, sending them to Wakarusa and Dawg Daze Of Summer Music Festival. They also played Little Rock River Festival 2012. Over the last year and a half Cadillac Jackson has been on a booking frenzy, routinely traveling to Eureka Springs, Little Rock, Hot Springs, Fort Smith, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, as well as their home town of Fayetteville. They have been saving money, growing their brand and just recently completed a new studio EP “Purple” which will be available in May.

“This EP is a long time coming and its something we are really proud of,” said Cruce. “We played a lot of gigs and drove more miles than I care to remember to come up with the money to do this project. Our tentative plan is for this disc to be the first in a three or four part series over the next couple of years.”

Sticking with their off-the-beaten-path style, the album (untitled-“Purple”) is to be the first in a series of five-track EP’s that will be defined by a central color theme instead of an album-title. Produced by Groovement drummer and proprietor of Sound Source Studio, Bryan Burkhart, the “Purple EP” is a non-stop party starter that sounds like a cross between classic Chili Peppers and early 1990’s hip-hop, with a southern twang. It is heavy on low-end bass and drums and features a wall of key-boards and layered guitars.

“Lyrically there is a prevalent story-teller type of overtone on these five tracks. We tried to keep the verses as clever and culturally relevant as possible and we wanted the choruses to be freaking huge,” said Josh Souza. “Its my belief that hip-hop artist sometimes overload their albums with way too many lyrics, trying to find the extra punch-line. For this album we wanted to let the lines breath and let (Tuck) deliver them with a hard-hitting old-school style…he is great at it.”

Tucker, the group’s highly energetic front-man, is the break-out star of the album, dropping insane one-liners with a daringly original confidence that is rare for a guy who had never rapped before joining Cadillac Jackson in October of 2010. The most ear-catching lines include “Girls got me feeling just like a Cartoon/Captain Glen G-Q/ Gigitty-Giggity-Giggity-Goo,” and “I spit that hot fire like my name was Dylan/But I’m not (making the band), I’m MAKING the band/See areolas so much they’re like my number one fan.”

Standout tracks include “Crazy Tambourine Lady” and “Get Weird Nation.” “Crazy Tambourine Lady” is routinely the band’s biggest calling card and undoubtedly the catchiest of all the head-nodding tracks. “Get Weird Nation” is both an ode to the medical marijuana campaign and a recap of the bands experiences during their trip to Wakarusa. The track features a sultry saxophone solo by stand-in musician Nate McClouth and a symphony of bong-rips, sound-bites, and cultural references (easily understood by anyone who has ever paid a visit to the Mulberry Mountain campgrounds).

What makes the album and the band unique, however, is not the front man, but the five guys backing him up. Each of the musicians has totally different influences and musical back-ground. The only two members of the group who have any formal training are Cruce and Danner, who literally grew up playing the drums. It is also interesting to note that all of the members met while working together at T.G.I. Friday’s in Fayetteville, with the exception of Cruce who lives in Fort Smith.

“Yeah it’s kind of funny, we met each other while waiting tables and look at us now,” joked Danner. “What is really funny is that we didn’t actually start playing music together until Friday’s closed down. I was with another band at the time and (The Souzas) were doing their own band. None of us ever had any idea we would play music with (Tuck) in our lifetime, but then again we had no idea he could rap.”

Like many bands from the 1960’s and 70’s the group cut its teeth by playing live shows; literally trial and error. After a handful of years going through the fire of three-hour sets and unruly crowds, Cadillac Jackson is as battle tested a band as you will find. They have found their groove and more importantly, with Tucker at the helm, they have finally defined their sound.

“For the longest time we didn’t know what we were going for as a sound because none of us had ever been in a band and we all have different taste in music,” explained Jake Souza. “Once (Tuck) came into the fold we began to narrow down what we wanted – funky music with catchy lyrics. We still have that random element to our sound, but for the most part the nuts and bolts are in place and we love the music we are coming out with.”

The Cadillac Jackson live show is very high energy. Tucker relentlessly works the crowd with his dance moves and bass man Josh Souza slaps his five-string and hops around the stage like a slightly-less erratic version of Flea with his shirt on. If the stage presence doesn’t pull you in, the shredding guitar playing of Logan Cruce and Jared Souza will. The duo complements each other extremely well on stage (and in studio) with contrasting styles. The presence of dueling guitars is definitely not something you would expect from a hip-hop band.

“Logan is a classic shredder which doesn’t really seem like it would work with hip-hop music at the forefront of what we do, but it does,” said Tucker. “He fills a ton of space with his licks and he pulls in the people who want to rage-out. Jared plays everything from slide-guitar to scratching on his kill-switch…he plays the type of solo that makes you want to carry your girl out of the bar and right into the bedroom.”

During a three-hour Cadillac Jackson show you could see the band play covers ranging from The Roots to Pink Floyd to Dave Matthews Band to Michael Jackson; everything with their own twist of course. Though they have nearly 30 original tunes in their catalog, Cadillac Jackson has also garnered a reputation for their “mash up” cover songs; most notably a combination of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Dr. Dre’s “California Love.”

With the Purple EP completed, Cadillac Jackson scheduled 3 “CD-Release-Partys” that spanned three cities (Ft. Smith, Fayetteville and Little Rock). The album is available for $10 on iTunes, and listen to samples at www.reverbnation.com/caddyj.

The band name comes from a distant relative of the Souza family, who gained the moniker (Cadillac Jackson) during the prohibition-era, bootlegging high-quality moonshine out of the trunk of his souped-up Cadillac.

(Cadillac Jackson music can be found on iTunes, Facebook, and reverbnation.)

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